All the Met can afford is five new shows

Berg’s Wozzeck – which the New York Times has already puffed as ‘harrowing’- plus Handel’s Agrippina, Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, Porgy and Bess and a Flying Dutchman is all that America’s biggest opera house can afford by way of new productions in its coming season.

Here’s the full rundown.

Dutch National Opera, you read here yesterday, has 12 new productions.

It has yet to dawn on Peter Gelb that the paying public does not tend to return to old shows.


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  • “Harrowing” is a reference to the NYT’s own review of the same production in Salzburg 2017. What’s wrong with that?

  • Ugh. Not a very inspiring season at all, with the exception of Porgy which hasn’t been done for ages. Gelb seems to have gone for the audience favorites (again) – Boheme, Butterfly, Traviata etc etc. And where’s Asmik Grigorian who was promised for this season on SD (and the rumor mill)? Was really looking forward to hearing her 🙁

    • I wouldn’t be so contemptuous towards Gelb. This is what the programming at any major opera house looks like. The Wiener Staatsoper and La Scala seasons are filled with the same war horses.

      Akhnaten, Porgy, and Kata Kabanova in a single season is pretty good.

  • The headline is blatantly wrong and misleading. They could have easily afforded more new productions. They chose to do what they could comfortably fit into a long and very busy season. The phrase “quality over quantity” come to mind.

  • You are truly putting Gelb in a “damned if you don’t, damned if you do” position. Only five productions? What a shortsighted director he is, and can’t the MET do better? More, and it’s probably “oh no, more of that Regietheater garbage.” And don’t forget the abuse Gelb has taken from the MET audience for replacing those tired old Zefirelli productions.

    As for new productions, I don’t see why they would replace Wozzeck; the current production debuted in 1999, and while 20 years is a long time, Wozzeck isn’t done much, and it was a great production, hardly wearing out its welcome, I’d think.

    Sir Simon conducting Rosenkavalier? I might actually go up to New York to see that one if it’s not Live in HD.

    • Those tired old Zeffirelli productions are very popular. Both the Turandot and Boheme fill the house with even second rate singers.

  • The paying public will come to shows with juicy casts.

    Wozzeck is a mistake – the public is certainly weary of 12-tone misery – expect to see wide open spaces in the pricey sections of the house. Agrippina ought to be a hit for them.

    • Wozzeck isn’t 12-tone. Lulu is, but not Wozzeck. Repetition of pitches establishes continuity and structure in Wozzeck. It uses classical forms for organizing scenes. It also employs leitmotifs. In sum, Wozzeck is a carefully organized opera. It is both modern and romantic.

      • Wozzeck was loved by Carlos Kleiber who conducted it, if memory serves, for the Edinburgh Festival in the 60s/70s(?). And it was broadcast – which gave him the usual horrors.

    • I don’t know whether what “Viola da Bracchio” writes about the public’s preferences is true (and Lulu has sold well at the Met in the past), but what that has to do with Wozzeck escapes me, since it’s not 12-tone — miserable or otherwise.

    • No, new productions don’t make enough extra to cover the cost (something like $1m per production). The aim of any new production is that they will be able to bring it back a few times (especially the “war-horses”) over the next few years.

      The cost of new productions is one of the reasons that the repertoire is so narrow. One solution is to do joint-productions to help keep the costs down.

  • Norman,

    Why don’t you put the axe you’re grinding to the side, actually look at the facts, and maybe attend a few Met performances.

    One reason the Met only has five new productions is because so many of its revival productions are only a few years old. Traviata premiered this year; Cosi and Tosca last season; Rosenkavalier two seasons ago; Manon Lescaut four seasons; Figaro and Werther five seasons. On the whole, most of the productions are under 10 years old.

    La Boheme and Turandot are sacred Zeffirelli cows that are never going to be replaced.

    Probably the only production that is long overdue for replacement is Simon Boccanegra. Madama Butterfly is about there.

    The typical 8 to 9 opera subscriber is going to have plenty of fresh looking operas in their package.

    • Good point. And some of the casting is attractive. But any organisation is judged on its capacity to innovate. Five new shows is way below par by any global measure.

      • It’s worse than that. This new season does not have five new prods; it has exactly one, and it’s the Hollaender. The other four have been seen before — they may be new to New York, but they’re not new new. The Met is merely paying the money and adapting them a little to their peculiarly-shaped stage. But they’ve been seen before and everyone worth their salt will know what to expect, or perhaps already seen them.

        • Very true! A point often overlooked even by professional critics. Except “Flying Dutchman”, all other “new” productions have been seen, and originated in Europe, to the extreme of a 20 years old Brussels production of “Agrippina”. Real new productions are important, because they define the artistic profile of an opera house, thus leading and inspiring other houses. The Met is only following and being uninspired.

        • Oh come on. This getting ridiculous.

          Pooling their money with other companies to jointly create new productions simply makes good business sense. Productions should be shared among companies because only so many operas can be staged a year — rather than have a production sit dormant in a warehouse for several years, someone else should be using.

          New to New York is new to Met audiences. You really think people have already seen these productions in other cities?

          Finally, this arrangement is common throughout the art world. Orchestras jointly commission new works. Museums jointly buy paintings and take turns exhibiting them.

          You people have such a vendetta against the Met that you’ll say the sky is green if it would somehow help advance your agenda.

          And how many of you even attend Met performances? I see all of these sweeping judgements that are based on scant details.

          • Except in the case of these four not-really-new productions, the Met did NOT “pool its money”, and all the rest of the pompous poppycock you wrote. They really bought them off the shelf long, long after. The SF Wozzeck wasn’t co-produced with the Met. The Akhnaten (which, as it happens, is now on its second outing at lowly ENO, as I type) was a copro with LA Opera, not with the Met. The Met had zero financial or artistic input in the creation of these works. They just bought them on the secondary market. That’s a reasonable strategy, of course, if you are a third-rate house, or if you’re a mere “venue” rather than a producing company.

            But maybe I got it wrong and that’s in fact what the Met is: a third-rate venue for hire.

      • That’s a totally arbitrary metric, which, as I pointed out, doesn’t take into account how many of the other productions in the season are only 0 to 3 years old. If you want faster turnover, then the Met isn’t going to sink so much money into its new productions. Wonderful new productions like Cosi and The Pearl Fishers won’t happen if the expected shelf-life is only 5 years or so.

        • It looks to me like we’re speaking different languages here. Nobody (except, for some reason, you) is talking about fast turnover or short prod lives.

          In fact, if anything, quite the contrary: I agree with another commentator elsewhere on this discussion chain, that the Met’s extant Wozzeck was perfectly recent and perfectly adequate and perfectly rarely-performed, so as to not require being replaced — particularly not with a production bought off the Internet like some Ukrainian mail older bride past her sell-by date (I accept that my negative opinion of the SF Wozzeck they have bought, which I had the misfortune of seeing, is informed by the fact that Kentridge is a major league fraud; I bet SF couldn’t believe their lucky days that they were able to recoup some of their sunk investment ex-post).

          No; what was being discussed here is the notion that *insofar* as the Met decided, for whatever reason, that they did need a “new” Akhnaten, or Ariodante, or Wozzeck, that they should have chosen to go shopping for crumbs and other leftovers from the recent or more distant past and claim them as their own, instead of producing or co-producing their very own. A house of their alleged stature should get dirty artistically rather than treat this as pure business.

          To be clear, of the five “new” prods, one is really new and another, Porgy, is a bona fide co-production (where the great Met is only the third of the three houses involved to show it — but at least they were involved from the outset). The other three are Ukrainian mail-order brides — shop, put in basket, put credit card, check out, the goods are in the post.

          One final thought on the point about magnificent prods that lay dormant in warehouses rather than being seen and enjoyed: it’s a thought that has merit, of course. Serge Dorny, then still at the Opera de Lyon, had it and put it into practice in the spring of 2017 with his “Festival Mémoires” where he dusted off and staged a Heiner Müller Tristan from Bayreuth in the 70s; a Ruth Berghaus Salomé from DDR-era Dresden; and a Klaus Michael Grüber Poppea. But he didn’t masquerade any of these as “new productions”. The whole shtick was from the outset that these are non-Lyon prods that are worth seeing and that Lyon will make them happen for everyone’s enjoyment rather than letting them rot in warehouses. It was intellectually honest.

  • I have to disagree. The public is failing to attend DUE to the recent new productions!
    That is because they are typical chairs in rows and desks and tuxedos and leather dusters and automatic pistols and storylines turned on their heads accentuating narrow, partial plot focuses, obliterating the much-more-inclusive original settings, and distracting from the talent and technique and beauty of the singing–WHICH the public DOES come to the theatre for.
    We have never seen (from the stage) the vast, empty spaces in the hall (“football fields”) that have coincided with the advent of the Regie designs and their predessessors! This started before Gelb, it must be said, but he has certainly SPED the demise of the audience’s along with the drek (productions AND stage directors from TV series, etc.) There is the occasional true talent (e.g.: McVicar) but mostly overthought, ultimately shallow, NEW productions which are, by now all very similar and BORING, BORING, BORING!

  • A new production is oftentimes more of a reason for me not to go to an opera than to go, unless the cast of singers is particularly compelling, or the new production is replacing some other awful modern production (current Met Rigoletto).

  • I think you’re wrong. Given the new productions are too often horrible to behold, audiences definitely prefer the safe old productions. Zeffirelli’s productions held up for decades and never needed to be retired. And they routinely sold out.

  • The public has returned to MET spectacles for years, Boheme, Aida, Butterfly (The Butterfly production ran from the 1950’s to the 1990’s) etc. They just don’t return for Gelb’s shows. There is a difference between quality sets and direction and Eurotrash that Gelb is attracted to. Gelb also ran off many of the MET’s tried and true subscribers early on in his tenure. I keep saying it, but unfortunately the cancer at this point has metastasized.

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